I had a bit of a giggle this past weekend at Circuit of The Americas when I rolled down pit lane for the round robin and had to wipe the rain off my visor!
Yes, it was a wet track day, and yes, I was looking forward to the chance to ride on a wet track.
Firstly, let me preface this by saying that I did prepare in advance. I normally use slicks while teaching. They grip well after warming up (I dont use tire warmers), they are cheaper than the stock tires that came on my Aprilia, and they last MUCH longer.
However, knowing that the chances of rain at COTA I planned ahead and put a DOT tire on the front and left the slick on the rear. I expected this to be a good combination for a wet track even if it dried out. I've used rain tires in the past and had to stop riding when the track started to dry out as I don't have spare wheels for any of my bikes.
Anyway, as I was tipping in to Turn 1 at the top of the hill I thought back to my last blog. I was carefull to reach neutral throttle before tipping in, I over exaggerated my body position to keep the bike as upright as possible, then smoothly accellerated out of the turn. No problem. The rest of the session went fine. I was smooth on the brakes, smooth through the turns and smooth on the gas. I have the luxury of different riding modes on my bike so I made sure I was in the Rain mode but I still don't think this would have mattered. Regardless, by over emphasizing the smooth riding style I described in my last blog I was able to finish the session at a good pace without a single slide.
Thanks to an intermittent electrical fault on my bike I spent the next session on a ZX-10 fitted with slicks front and rear. And the rain was getting heavier by the minute.
In this particular case I was going to be leading a few riders who had never been to COTA before and who also arrived too late to ride in the round robin. As a result, I would need to keep my speed down.
"Well, I think I can manage that..." I said to myself, knowing I would be riding on a slick front tire.
Sure enough, I did the same as the previous session but this time as I tipped into the downhill right at Turn 2 I could feel a sudden vagueness in the front. Uh oh, the front is sliding. It wasn't sudden, just a quick loss of sensation at the bars.
A moment later, the rear tire felt like it was travelling in the wrong direction.
So there I was, rain drops obscuring my view, cold slick tires skating across the asphalt and a line of students behind me expecting me to show them exactly what to do.
Not a confidence inspiring moment!
And yet, I stayed upright.
The sideways slide lasted only a moment. I didn't chop the throttle, I just weighted the outside peg, rested my weight on the tank and the tires gripped again.
I smoothly accelerated through the esses using the most accurate line I could to minimize lean. I used the throttle and brakes as smoothly as I could until I came out of Turn 11 then I decided to experiment a little. I used gradually more throttle so I could find the point at which the rear would spin. And when it happened it was no surprise. From that moment on I knew how much gas I could use for a given lean angle.
Meanwhile, other bikes with DOT tires and wets went roaring past us but that didn't bother me. I knew my students were keeping up and thats all I cared about.
Back in the pits I was a little disappointed to see so many people not riding. Afterall, COTA is an expensive track to ride. Why not make the most of it?
"Its way too dangerous to ride in the rain." said most in response to my queries.
"Why is that," I asked each one. "Its always best to ride smoothly, in the rain and in the dry. Being wet is just good practise."
I got more than a few weird looks that morning.
Luckily for those students, the sun burned its way through the clouds shortly before lunch. And after finding the cause of my annoying electrical fault I was able to grid up just as the sun had burned a dry line around most of the track.
As I tipped into Turn 1 I was using the same technique as I used earlier. Smooth on the brakes, use my body weight to keep the bike as upright as possible, smooth on the gas. The speeds were higher all around the track, and there was a little less apprehension, but the same techniques always yield the same results, wet or dry.